Panned as what must be a low point for disaster flicks, TNT aired 14 Hours last night about the 2001 flooding of Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. A flood may not be as visually arresting as an incendiary conflagration, but losing power during scores of surgeries and managing critical patients on vents and IABs is no walk in the park.  We missed it, watching Ed, Edd n Eddy instead. Nurse Week gives the movie 5 stars for its authenticity and positive portrayal of nursing staff.

 

The flood portrayed in the movie was actually the third major flood for the medical center. I was working at The Methodist Hospital when the Texas Medical Center (TMC) flooded for the first time - 1981 I think. What an experience...

 

The streets flooded from a heavy afternoon rain (urban flash floods referred to as "ponding").  Three feet of water in the streets ran down into underground parking garages and into the hospitals.  I recall some engineers trying to plug up a section of sheet rock that broke, releasing a torrent of water from the garage into the basement.  The sub basement flooded completely (elevators, water pumps, power switch gear), the basement took about 3 feet of water (biomed, housekeeping, food service, research labs and animals). Emergency generators were on the basement level in parking garages.  The TMC lost all power for 2 or 3 days and full power for more than a week. The street flooding receded after several hours, but those that did not live within a mile or two of the hospital could not get home the first night. We spent the night at our department secretary's house, many slept on mattresses in the assembly room and cafeteria floor.

 

This was a huge logistical challenge. Everything had to be brought in from the outside: industrial power generators, fuel, patient meals, drinking water, and hospital supplies. Everything was carried floor to floor via stair wells, including patients.

 

The hospital was pitch black in areas with no windows. Walking with a flashlight was a surreal experience as the beam passed over huddles of family members just hanging out in the dark, worried and talking quietly.  At one point I saw a CABG being completed by flashlight - the perfusionist hand cranking the heart lung machine, the anesthesiologist reading off vital signs, 3 or 4 scrub nurses holding big flashlights illuminating the surgical field -- the patient did fine, by the way. I never went through any of the ICUs. Staff worked double and triple shifts, until replacements could get to the hospital. Staff did a remarkable job during this crisis, taking the initiative and ensuring patient safety.

 

After the flood everyone in the Medical Center installed flood barricades (including Hermann).  Emergency power generators were also repositioned above ground. I can recall the TMC flooding twice more after that. After the 2001 flood water tight doors, like on submarines, were installed in tunnels hospitals and garages.

 

The movie will be rebroadcast April 6, 9, 10 and 12 at various times, see your local listings.

 

UPDATE: I saw the following in a post by Robert Koehl on the Biomedtalk listserv describing his experience during the 2001 flood at Memorial Hermann.  Robert graciously gave his permission to share his story.

I did not actually see the TNT show. I hope to see it when it is rerun or from a video copy. From what I have heard the exteriors of the buildings are nothing like ours, but the interiors are fairly accurate. I was told the mock-up of our flooded atrium looked pretty good. There was not a super-nurse and physician who ran the entire show. It was a team effort.

Our hospital has plenty of battery operated monitors and defibrillators. Most of the battery operated monitors were on the most critical patients as they were carried out of the facility to awaiting ambulances and air transport.

The facility had plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand, so it would be accurate if no one appeared worried about batteries in the show. Batteries and flashlights were being distributed from our ER ambulance dock.

As far as Biomed's role in the disaster, here's a brief account:

Several of us were on site as soon as we could get in Saturday morning.

We first worked with Facilities Engineering setting up portable generators on the roofs to get some emergency power into the ICU's. We then assisted Facilities Engineering making and setting up temporary lighting in the stairwells. After this, we joined the many carrying patients down the stairwells and out of the facility. We continued this until about 4:00am Sunday morning. (One physician or nurse working with 5 "grunts" for each patient.)

We continued to assist in the evacuation of patients later Sunday morning, after a few hours of sleep. My recollection was that all patients were evacuated by around noon on Sunday. There was a minor celebration and everyone switched to other tasks.

Biomed's next task at hand was rounding up all of the medical equipment required at other facilities for the care of our transferred patients.

We to had carry Puritan Bennet ventilators down the stairs to accommodate our ventilator patients in other facilities. (There was a picture of us doing this in 24 X 7 you may remember). We ultimately set up a couple of complete Adult ICU's (including networking) in two other hospitals. We also set up our entire Epilepsy monitoring unit at another hospital and a couple of neonatal ICU's.

The fact that our medical equipment was being shipped out to other facilities all over Houston necessitated our developing a tracking system and documenting all equipment that left the facility. This was done by documenting asset tags, manufacturer, device, model and serial numbers, facility transferred to, etc. on a legal tablet at first and later with Excel spreadsheets when electricity had been restored to parts of the hospital. We also began documenting other non-medical equipment assets such as night stands, beds, etc that were leaving the facility because no one else was doing it.

Our shop was under 5 feet of water. We were carrying on all of these operations from a hallway in our ER and from a small room that we had commandeered nearby.

Our next task was rounding up all rental medical equipment in the facility and carry it down the stairs so it could be removed from the facility. (Rental companies had agreed to stop charges, but the equipment still had to be rounded up and removed.)

We decided that all medical equipment would need to have at least a full operational test before it could be put back in service due to the high humidity levels in the facility and the abrupt manner in which the electricity had shut down. After the power had been partially restored, we began operational testing all of the equipment. We borrowed test equipment from our sister hospitals and our Texas Medical Center neighbor, Ben Taub General Hospital to accomplish this. We also replaced the batteries in all of the battery operated devices. We convinced Alaris and Sims Level One to use the opportunity to swap out all of the non-hospital owned infusion pumps and fluid warmers. A third party company did all of the incoming inspections on our over 700 infusion pumps.

We were preparing to reopen in early July. Biomed assisted in relocating as much equipment as possible back to it's original location inside the facility. This involved getting all of our monitors, ventilators, etc. back into the hospital and reinstalling our monitoring units. We also ended up coordinating the return of other non-medical equipment.

During our spare time, we designed a temporary Biomed Shop built in a shell space on the 8th floor of the Hermann Pavilion where we are still located. Our Labs, Central Supply, and Building Services were also relocated to this floor.

I was walking through the darkened hallways of our facility with a flashlight one day during the event, tripping over the temporary plastic ventilation shafts on the floor and thought "Someday things will be back to normal around here and I'll look back and remember all of this".

About six months after we reopened I recalled my thoughts and mused, "Wow! Today must be the day," as things had pretty much returned to normal. It was probably another year and a half before things really got back to normal. Needless to say, there was a lot of equipment in our "Could Not Locate" program after the flood. Biomed also spent a lot of time researching and documenting the medical equipment which was lost and destroyed for FEMA reimbursement after the flood.

You still hear people say "Before the flood" around here from time to time. When Biomed says it, we're usually referring to lost reference materials, parts, etc.

I'm sure I overlooked a few things, but that pretty much defines Biomed's role in a nutshell.

Robert Koehl,

Team Leader, Biomedical Engineering, Memorial Hermann Hospital